I love my sister-in-law Ronna. The first time I met her, she gave me the most incredible hug. It wasn’t obligatory, wimpy or semi-committal. It was a full-on bear hug, complete with belly contact and a stout, strong, enveloping embrace. She is my inspiration for all the hugs I give and receive. Ronna – and hugging – are on my mind now more than ever; especially after the last two years.
Science backs how powerful hugging can be on our physical, mental and emotional health. When we take time to meet, greet and give each other heart-felt hugs:
•We get a health boost. Hugs stimulate the production of oxytocin (the love hormone), which is shown to boost our immune system and our ability to fight illness.
We de-stress. The effects of a hug are immediate. A stress management study conducted at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto showed that participants who received a hug had a significant reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. A whopping 90% of diseases are said to be linked to high levels of stress in the body.
•We relax and let go. When someone hugs us, pressure receptors in our skin immediately send signals to the vagus nerve. As a result of the this nervous system re-set, our heart rate and blood pressure decrease and we feel relaxed and content.
We get happy. Hugs stimulate the production of dopamine (the pleasure hormone), which helps us to relieve stress, tension and feel more open and trusting.
•We love ourselves more. According to a study conducted at the University College London, physical contact like that from a hug is essential to developing and maintaining a healthy perception of our body. Hugs also help us to feel more emotionally connected to our friends and family.
Doubt the power of a hug? I stumbled across this video the other day of two young cousins and best friends hugging for the first time after a long quarantine (Google cousins from Kentucky first hug since pandemic to view this). Find it: it’s worth it, I promise.
Before COVID, every time I would see my single friends (particularly those without kids) I would make it a point to give them at least two hugs during our visit. Many, especially now in this age of loneliness, are going an entire day without any hugs. That’s no good.
Lucky enough to be in a relationship now and want to feel more connected to your partner? Relationship expert Dr. Stan Tatkin, author of “Wired for Love,” found that when couples feel safe with one another a twenty-second, full-body hug is just enough to release oxytocin and allow them to “synch up” on a neurobiological level. His research has shown this kind of hugging can have a profound effect on couples attachment and communication, especially when done upon greeting one another at the end of the day. Try it.
Virginia Satir, American psychologist and adolescent expert says, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Is there someone in your life who could use more hugs?
If you’re comfortable, this week I challenge you to try and get at least four hugs a day (Ronna-style). Remember, pets, your children or grandchildren and hugging the same person multiple times all count. I have also started doing back hugs (yes back-to-back snuggles) with friends I haven’t seen in a while who are nervous about hugging due to the pandemic. Of course, always ask if you can hug someone and respect people’s boundaries.
The immune-boosting benefits of hugging are enormous. How do you feel when you receive an awesome hug? If you’re not a hugger, could you become one? Maybe this is a good week to step out of your comfort zone and explore the science-based benefits of a big old bear hug!
Renee Peterson Trudeau is a Brevard-based, nationally-recognized mindfulness and resiliency author/speaker/coach who is passionate about helping people find balance through the art/science of self-care. Check out her May 6-8 Awakening Your Wild Soul Women’s Retreat in Boone and subscribe to her weekly life balance blog at www.ReneeTrudeau.com.